Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Some Thoughts on Treme
Treme (HBO site)
I finally got through the first two episodes of Treme, David Simon's portrait of post-Katrina musicians and the people in their wake. So far I don't really have more than a surface feel for the characters but that's OK because, having spent my life in a low orbit around the city, I've found that actual New Orleans characters give great surface. They really do wear their hats like that and saunter around like they were shook out of a Tom Waits tune. One of my best friends works in tangent to the restaurant industry there, a subculture as singularly nuanced and melodramatic as the music scene, and in comparing the bourgeoisie orientation of Baton Rouge (and the rest of the country) and the self-perpetuated mystique of New Orleans, put it well: "Charm is New Orleans' greatest product. We're not a banking center. Not a particularly great place to raise a family. We're charming! That's all we got!"
I love that WWOZ itself is a main character in the show. It bugs me a little that the two episodes opened with, respectively, a second line parade and a voodoo ritual. Starting a New Orleans story with those details reminds me a little of when a friend of mine said her husband was happy the screenplay he was working on centered on the female character, but when she read it, it opened with a shower scene. Nothing against shower scenes, but again, surface. It's a TV show.
Second lines (and particularly, talking about second lines) and broke-dick musicians late for gigs and a lot of "Yeah, you right" resigned camaraderie make up the New Orleans I know, and in that respect Treme is right on. It is a gorgeous high-budget New Orleans mixtape. And truthfully, I'll watch anything that allows me to bask in the icepick finery of Khandi Alexander. But it's ludicrous to expect Treme to be an exacting portrait.
A different friend of mine and I were talking about David Simon's The Corner, his mediated version of drug life in Baltimore, and how his affections are for the affectations which then get framed in stunning cinematography. One of the big moments I remember from The Corner is when the school teacher has the drug dealers step aside for a moment while she marches school kids through the neighborhood and like a viscous river, they fall back in to pitching prices at cars. A great/corny Moses moment that would probably not happen in real life, but it's still an image that hangs in my head and does something, which is more than I can say for most of TV. Maybe like a lot of of the New Orleans music that builds up Treme, it's not in the lyrics or even the melodies but in the rhythm and arrangements that the profundity lies. It doesn't need to say something different because it is from the bones up different. New Orleans is a city that speaks itself; Treme is just another channel on which part of the message comes through.